Andy Partridge made musical hay this summer with The 3 Clubmen, a project with Jen Olive and Stu Rowe (which I reviewed for Joyzine back in June), but as well as being a member of XTC, plus his many solo and side projects and work as a producer, he is also an artist. Popartery is a collection of 56 of his watercolours, each one illustrating a different XTC song.
Back in 2017 the book Complicated Game was released. It was made up of anecdotes about XTC, insights into writing and recording their songs, plus pages from Partridge’s song writing notebooks with reproductions of his original artwork designs. Alongside the main run of books there were also 56 one-off hardback editions which featured a watercolour dust jacket hand-painted by Andy Partridge. Very few were seen at the time but Andy, along with his long-time art associate Andrew Swainson, took hi-res scans of them all. In the following years they discussed the works often, and the idea of a collecting them all in one place took shape. The final piece was the inclusion of Andy’s notes on each painting and the song that inspired them.
Andy Partridge has long been influenced by the visual. Always a man who knows how to craft a good allusion and play with language in his lyrics, the ‘pop’ is music as well as the ‘Pop Art’ of artists like Peter Blake, with ‘artery’ intimating that art is as important as the blood in our veins. Art and great design is woven throughout Andy’s time with XTC and beyond. The cover to Oranges & Lemons was a nod to the work of Heinz Edelmann, who had designed the characters for The Beatles film Yellow Submarine, and graphic designer Alan Aldridge is also a big influence. The XTC side-project The Dukes of the Stratosphear pays homage to the band’s love of 60s psychedelia with their covers made by Andy under his Dukes’ alter-ego, Sir John Johns.
Below is an example from Popartery of Andy’s note accompanying the illustration for the song Garden of Earthly Delights
“I was really chuffed how this one turned out. The snake came out… snakey. The cake came out…cakey. The apple completes the allusion to Adam and Eve, with the candle representing the light of knowledge. The reason we were kicked out. Get smart equals “get out!”. Religions like you dumb, remember.
On a technical note, the snake never really came to life for me until I added the white criss-crosses suggesting sunlight on his scales. Then he seemed to hiss into action.
People have asked if this song related to the triptych by Bosch? The answer is no… apart from the title. It’s really a list of suggestions to my young children on how to live their lives. All tied up in a pan-global wrapping paper that suggests the rules are the same, everywhere.”
When you ordered a one-off Complicated Game you didn’t know which watercolour you would get, but the ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ cover is particularly dear to my heart as it’s the one that I own.
Popartery is 122 pages printed on high quality 200 gsm paper and issued as a limited edition of 2,000 hardcover books with a linen finish and only available from the Ape House shop/Burning Shed. Each copy of the hardcover includes a numbered bookplate, personally signed by Andy Partridge. The book also includes an intro by the artist and an outro by fellow artist and collaborator, Andrew Swainson.
Popartery is released on 29th September and available from the Burning Shed website priced at £35.
Review by Paul F Cook